Thursday, April 24, 2008

Attendance, Attendance, Tactics To Shape Democratic District Conventions

Attendance, Tactics To Shape Democratic District Conventions
They say half the game is just showing up, and that's true for Iowa's Democratic congressional district conventions. The other half may be tactical politics, as supporters of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama try to deny the other campaign any advantage.

The most important factors in determining how many national delegates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and, yes, former candidate John Edwards get on Saturday will be which campaign does the best job of getting its share of the 2,500 delegates to travel to the conventions, and who can quietly cut the best deals.

A district-by-district review of the delegate totals shows that three of the 29 national delegate seats to be elected Saturday are up for grabs. One additional delegate may be in competition, if a deal between campaigns works out. As it stands, Obama can expect 15 national delegates, Clinton will have nine, and Edwards will earn at least two.

A 4th District Edwards supporter said there was a conference call Wednesday night between Edwards backers and "another campaign." Math would indicate that the "other campaign" was Clinton's. And a 1st District activist reported that the Clinton campaign offered to lend supporters to Edwards.

4th District Edwards supporter Sam Juhl, the mayor of Roland and an Iowa house candidate, said there was a Wednesday night conference call between Edwards supporters and "another campaign" to discuss a deal. "I think there may be viability" in the 4th District, said Juhl, despite numbers out of county conventions that show Edwards well short of viability there.

In the 1st District, where Edwards is on the cusp of viability, an Edwards county leader reported that the Clinton campaign has offered to lend people to keep or make Edwards viable if needed.

"Hillary is out there trying to help out Edwards for whatever reason, offering to give us people," said Highland Nichols of Clinton. "The other camps want to see Edwards viable."

There's a long caucus and convention history of deal making, where one group joins another for a share of the delegates, and those lurkers can always switch back to their original choice at the next level. Edwards supporters may also be lurking in the Obama or Clinton camps, from counties where Edwards was not viable.

From the Clinton campaign's perspective, every delegate Edwards wins is a delegate Obama doesn't get. At least, that holds true in two districts where a viable Edwards helps Clinton. In one district a viable Edwards would help Obama.

In a normal year, three or four delegates wouldn't matter much. But three and a half months after the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, the 2008 Democratic race is anything but normal. To put the importance of these delegates in perspective, note that the entire state of Texas wound up with only a five delegate split between Clinton and Obama. 

The die will be cast once delegate seating and realignment are completed, by mid-afternoon. After that, the math is complete and the delegates are allocated. The lengthiest battles are not between campaigns, but within campaigns, as district delegates struggle through multiple ballots to decide who actually gets to take the coveted trip to the August national convention in Denver.

Delegates will also choose party officers and debate the platform, though platform debate has simmered down in the past decade as the party has tightened restrictions on the length of the final platform.

Iowa Congressional DistrictsBefore we plunge into the district numbers, here's how it works. On caucus night, caucus goers elected delegates to county conventions, which were held Mar. 15. Those county conventions elected the delegates who will attend Saturday's conventions, and Saturday's conventions will choose national delegates. The number of district delegates, and national delegates, in each district is determined by past voting performance.  Another 16 national delegates will be chosen at the June 14 state convention.

Each campaign has many alternates, who can fill the seats of delegates who don't show up. Presidential preference is more important than geography. For example, if an Obama delegate from Lee County doesn't show up to the 2nd District convention in Mount Vernon, the Obama group will first try to seat an Obama alternate from Lee County.  If that fails, an Obama alternate from Johnson County could be seated. A Clinton alternate from Lee County could not get the seat.

Viability is determined the same way it is on caucus night. A candidate needs 15 percent of the convention to be viable, otherwise his or her supporters must move to a second choice or pick off supporters of other candidates to become viable.

Now let's look at each district. All the viability numbers below assume that every seat is filled, either by a delegate or an alternate. That rarely happens in a normal year, but is quite possible this time. If seats go unfilled, the viability number goes down to 15 percent of the number of filled seats. Think of these numbers as a point spread rather than a final score.

1st District Convention, Dubuque
  District Delegates534
  National Delegates6

 District DelegatesNational Delegates

John Edwards won 77 delegates at county conventions, and two uncommitted delegates were elected out of Butler County where Edwards was non-viable. If Edwards fills all his seats, and is joined by those two uncommitteds, and only eight Clinton or Obama seats go unfilled, he could net a national delegate at the Dubuque convention.

But if everyone shows up, Edwards will fall just two people short of viability, and his supporters will determine who gets the district's sixth national delegate. Obama has the edge. He only needs 24 of the Edwards supporters to gain his fourth delegate, while Clinton needs to attract 56 of the 79 Edwards and uncommitted delegates to get a 3-3 national delegate split. The easier road might be to lend people to Edwards, as Nichols reports, to keep the delegate out of Obama's hands.

Edwards' efforts at viability are disadvantaged by the Dubuque location. He was non-viable at the Dubuque county convention, and of the 159 delegates who are from Dubuque or the four adjacent counties, only 12 support Edwards. Most Edwards supporters will have to make the trek up Highway 61 from Scott and Clinton counties.

But Clinton County's Highland Nichols says the Edwards supporters will be in Dubuque. "I've talked to several other county organizers, and at last count I think we can make (viability)," he said. "We'll have all 11 Edwards delegates (from Clinton County) attend or have alternates."

Obama's strength is relatively even across the district, while Clinton is slightly more popular in the counties closer to Dubuque.

"I could live with Hillary a lot easier than Obama" if Edwards falls short, Nichols said.   "John Edwards started out talking about change and hope before Obama even announced. I don't think Obama's had an original idea since he's started."

2nd District Convention, Mount Vernon
  District Delegates573
  National Delegates7

 District DelegatesNational Delegates

Things are relatively simple in the seven-delegate 2nd District, which will likely shake out Obama 4, Clinton 2, Edwards 1. Edwards forces in the district are well organized and well above viability. "We are anticipating keeping most if not all of our group together, both Johnson County and district-wide," said professor David Redlawsk, Johnson County Edwards chair.

The Mount Vernon location helps Edwards, who was strong in Johnson and Linn Counties, and hurts Clinton, whose was stronger in Lee, Des Moines, and the smaller rural counties in the southern part of the district.

3rd District Convention, West Des Moines
  District Delegates527
  National Delegates6

 District DelegatesNational Delegates

Two-thirds of the 3rd District's 527 delegates are from Polk County.  With the convention in West Des Moines, that makes geography a minor factor that only slightly aids Obama. The likely outcome is Obama 3, Clinton 2, and Edwards 1. The 3rd District's fireworks are more likely to revolve around the Leonard Boswell-Ed Fallon congressional primary.

4th District Convention, Boone
  District Delegates507
  National Delegates6

 District DelegatesNational Delegates

The Edwards and uncommitted forces need to pick up 18 delegates to reach viability. (The six uncommitteds are from Warren County, where Edwards was nonviable at the county convention.) Assuming everyone shows up, either Clinton or Obama could throw Edwards the 18 people he needs, without losing a delegate themselves.

If there are no deals and Edwards is not viable, Obama only needs to pick up 18 Edwards and uncommitted supporters to get a fourth national delegate, while Clinton would need 42 Edwards backers to get a third delegate. Given that math, it seems likely that Clinton would send supporters to Edwards to keep him viable, rather than giving Obama a shot at the fourth delegate.

Longtime party activist Margo McNabb of Story County says Edwards forces are making calls in the 4th District and "I plan to stand for John Edwards" at the convention. McNabb said she didn't have a sense of where Edwards' support would go if he's not viable.

In general, Edwards backers moved heavily to Obama rather than Clinton at county conventions. In the 4th district's Marshall County, Obama dominated the convention three to one when almost all the Edwards delegates joined his group. The question is, how many Obama-leaning Edwards people have already switched, and how much more can Obama gain? Or will Edwards lurkers in the Obama camp go back to their first choice?

Geography helps Obama, as he won heavily in Story County, next door to Boone. A big pool of Story alternates could help fill up empty Obama seats from farther away.

5th District Convention, Council Bluffs
  District Delegates359
  National Delegates4

 District DelegatesNational Delegates

The most spread-out district is also the one where who shows up will make the most difference. John Edwards is razor-thin viable. If all 359 seats are filled, Edwards is viable by one seat, with 55 delegates. (There are another three uncommitted delegates from three counties where Edwards was not viable.) He and Clinton would each get one delegate, while Obama would win two.

If Edwards is non-viable, the math favors a 2-2 split. Let's assume Obama and Clinton fill their seats, while Edwards falls just one person short of viability and seats 53 district delegates. Obama would need all 53 to get a third national delegate, and Clinton would need only one to gain the 2-2 split. This makes the tactical game the mirror image of the 1st and 4th Districts; it makes sense here for Obama to lend Edwards people, to deny Clinton the second delegate.

Geography helps Clinton, who was strong in Pottawattamie County. Of the 95 delegates who are from Pottawattamie or bordering counties, she leads Obama 43 delegates to 36, with 16 for Edwards.

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